‘We have a vision’ | Free Medical Clinic of America gets new name

The new title honors Dr. Tom Kim, creator of the free clinics in East Tennessee.
The new title honors Dr. Tom Kim, creator of the free clinics in East Tennessee.
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 7:19 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - For over three decades, Dr. Tom Kim has been dedicated to providing free medical care for working uninsured individuals in the Knoxville area.

In 1993 Kim opened his first Free Medical Clinic of America at 6209 Chapman Highway, where he personally funded all the costs himself and provided all the medical care and services by himself until around 2005.

Kim’s vision to help those in need really took off, and once he got support from the community, the clinic began to grow.

Kim was born in North Korea but fled the communist regime to Soul, South Korea and then came to America.

His parents and six siblings hoped on top of a train, beat the odds and made it to safety. He is grateful for America and the opportunities it gave him.

“The railroad station there is already packed. We can’t get in, we have to climb onto the top of the train, -10 degrees. I was just 6 years old,” Kim said.

His brother and sister held on to him to keep him from falling off the train.

The only requirements for patients who go to the free clinics are to be United States citizens or have a green card and be employed.

What started out as one clinic has quickly grown to six more in the East Tennessee community. Kim described how his idea came to life.

“Five fingers, that’s all it takes. I published one small book five fingers. One day, one patient, one doctor, that’ll do it, and then one church and then one dollar,” Kim said. “If the American working people send me one dollar, that’s 650 million, right? I knew if I had just this, I could make the clinics.”

Kim said he was lucky to be a Christian before he came to America since his grandfather was a Pastor in Korea. He credited his faith for getting him through the tough times and allowing him to help others in his new home.

“America is great. Everybody says, ‘It’s the land of opportunity.’ Take it, take it,” said Kim

Dr. Keith Gray, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at the University of Tennessee’s Medical Center, knew it was the right move to rename the first medical clinic after the doctor who started it all.

Gray said it is extremely important to him and UT to honor Kim and carry on his legacy of bringing medical care to anyone no matter where they live.

“Clinics like this and obviously, this is not the only ones, but clinics like this community and faith-based clinics are an important part of that spectrum of health care offering. We have a vision to continue to expand what he started here and other underserved areas of our community,” said Gray.

From fully funding the clinics and being basically the only doctor in the beginning, Kim has since helped thousands of people with no insurance get equal access to care and has a full staff to help him now.

He is now retired but continues his mission of helping others to this day.